NEW DELHI: A senior member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says cinemas will be burned down if the movie “Padmvati” is released.
Suraj Pal Amu, BJP’s media coordinator in the northern state of Haryana, made the threat just a day after he offered a bounty of 100 million rupees ($1.5 million) for “the heads” of the film’s director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and lead actress Deepika Padukone. The party has reportedly asked Amu to issue a public apology for the bounty offer.
“The warrior caste of the country has the strength to burn all the theatres in India if they play the movie,” Amu said.
“Padmavati” is based on the 16th century Sufi epic poem “Padmavat” — a fictional account of a Rajput Hindu queen who chose to commit “sati,” the medieval practice of self-immolation on the funeral pyre of her husband, rather than be taken captive by the Muslim king Allaudin Khilji, who ruled Delhi in the 14th century.
Over the years, perhaps because of the poem’s popularity and constant retelling, it has assumed the aura of factual history for some. And members of the Rajput community are accusing the director of distorting history and showing the community in a bad light. Bhansali denies that is the case.
Rumors of a scene in the film showing the Muslim king dreaming of a romantic tryst with the Hindu queen have enraged many, including Rajput Karni Sena (RKS), a militant fringe caste group, who have called for the film to be banned.
When Arab News contacted Bhansali for comment, he said only that he had nothing to add to what he has already said.
Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the production company behind “Padmavati,” has already postponed its initial release, slated for Dec. 1.
But the Rajput community is asking for the movie to be banned from screening in the country at all.
“The government should not allow the movie to hit the theaters,” said Lokendra Singh Lakvi, a patron of RKS. “We are requesting the Indian prime minister and other chief ministers of the state to ban the movie. Bhansali has a habit of making controversial movies.”
Three BJP-ruled states — Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh — have already announced they have banned the movie for its “distortion of history.”
Political analyst Urmilesh believes the controversy is a “deliberate ploy” that the BJP hopes will deflect attention from the country’s economic struggles, which, as he pointed out, are currently attracting “scathing press” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The crucial Gujarat elections are not far away,” Urmilesh told Arab News. “Modi is cornered there and by polarizing voters (along the) Hindu-Muslim (divide), the BJP wants to play the old game there.”
“Padmavati” has stirred up controversy before. Earlier this year, some members of the RKS invaded the film’s set and assaulted Bhansali.